Assuring rural hospital patient safety: What should be the priorities?

Andrew F. Coburn, Mary Wakefield, Michelle M Casey, Ira S Moscovice, Susan Payne, Stephenie Loux

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Context: Since reports on patient safety were issued by the Institute of Medicine, a number of interventions have been recommended and standards designed to improve hospital patient safety, including the Leapfrog, evidence-based safety standards. These standards are based on research conducted largely in urban hospitals, and it may not be possible to generalize them to rural hospitals. Purpose: The absence of rural-relevant patient safety standards and interventions may diminish purchaser and public perceptions of rural hospitals, further undermining the financial stability of rural hospitals. This study sought to assess the current evidence concerning rural hospital patient safety and to identify a set of rural-relevant patient safety interventions that the majority of small rural hospitals could readily implement and that rural hospitals, purchasers, consumers, and others would find relevant and useful. These interventions should help rural hospitals prioritize patient safety efforts. Methods: As background, we reviewed literature; interviewed representatives of provider, payer, consumer, and governmental groups in 8 states; and calculated patient safety indicator rates in rural hospitals using the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Health Care Cost and Utilization Project National Inpatient Sample. Based on the research literature and patient safety recommendations from national organizations, we developed a list of potentially important patient safety areas for rural hospitals. The rural relevance of these safety interventions was evaluated by a national expert panel in terms of the frequency of the problem, ability to implement, and the internal and external value to rural providers, purchasers, and consumers. Findings: The limited available research suggests that patient safety events and medical errors may be less likely to occur in rural than in urban hospitals. We identified 9 areas of patient safety and 26 priority patient safety interventions relevant to rural hospitals. Conclusions: Many of the identified areas of patient safety and interventions are relevant to all types of hospitals, not just rural hospitals. However, some areas, such as transfers, are especially relevant to rural hospitals. The challenges of implementing some interventions, such as 24/7 pharmacy coverage, are significant given workforce supply and financial problems faced by many small rural hospitals. The results of this study provide an important platform for further work to test the validity and effectiveness of these interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-326
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Rural Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2004


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